Highs and Lows

Photo by Nancy Gallardo / Unsplash

If you Google the number 420, you can find all sorts of references to this unofficial holiday for cannabis culture. tells us this began in the 1970s with a group of five teenagers who used to hang out by a wall near their high school in San Rafael, California. They were nicknamed the “Waldos.” In the fall of 1971, they got their hands on a “treasure map” that was supposedly going to lead them to an unattended pot plant in the Point Reyes area. The Waldos (all athletes) agreed to meet at least once a week at 4:20 p.m. (after practice) to crowd into a car, smoke some weed and search for the free bud. According to one of the original members, they’d see each other in the hallway at school and say “4:20-Louis” as a reminder to meet at the Louis Pasteur statue on campus. Eventually the “Louis” was dropped and the term 420 was coined. According to the article, the Waldos had connections to the Grateful Dead that no doubt helped this phrase spread internationally.

At around the same time, I had a friend in high school who would occasionally smoke a joint. She always offered to share but the smell of the smoke gave me a pounding headache. I imagined it would only be worse if I inhaled it directly.

My first hint that 420 was significant in some way came years later when I purchased a used car. When I received new license plates in the mail, two of my sons who were in their early teens at the time, thought it was cool that the plate number contained 420.

My novel, Taking Root, is set during the years following passage of Proposition 215 in California (the Compassionate Use Act), which legalized use of marijuana for medicinal purposes if recommended or prescribed by a physician.

Recreational use in California has been permitted since January 1, 2018 which brings me to this past weekend.

Several family members were gathered in my father’s backyard to celebrate his 91st birthday on Sunday afternoon. The weather was perfect. Two of his great-grandchildren were there. Three times, the pungent smell of marijuana smoke drifted over the fence from the neighbor’s yard. Though it no longer gives me a headache, I found myself irritated by the careless, inconsiderate exposure to children.

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